After nearly three years and $10M of catching up on 23 years of deferred maintenance, repairing damage that V&S/A&K did when they tried to illegally scrap the line in 2014, and installing a few upgrades such as a new interchange yard to NA Junction, the Towner Line is back in business as the Colorado Pacific Railroad, LLC.
The route is operated under contract by Watco’s Kansas & Oklahoma – the same railroad that operates the line to the east of Towner into Kansas – as their Kiowa Subdivision. Initial trains started running almost a year ago, back in February 2020, on the east end. There was at least a grain move from Towner to Eads and back, and then another the train that hauled 134 aluminum PPEX coal gons into storage at Haswell and Eads. However, traffic has so far been exceedingly infrequent.
When word came through the railfan grapevine that they’d be pulling the stored coal set and moving them east, there was no passing up that opportunity. I’ve never actually managed to photograph a train on the line east of Ordway. Originally I’d heard the move was supposed to be Monday, April 19, but the K&O power showed up at Haswell on Friday and the eastward move was rescheduled to Sunday. That was actually better for me – I didn’t even have to play hooky from work to go chase it. The only catch was that the crew was called out of Scott City, KS, at 0500h CDT. Given 2 hours to get to Haswell and another hour to knock off brakes, air test, and head out, that still put them departing at 0700h MDT. That meant getting up at 0400h for me, given the 2+ hour drive down. Ugh, I’m so not a morning person.
I was just a little late getting down there, but fortunately (for me at least, not so much for the crew) things weren’t going well. They were still trying to get their air to come up on the rear end by the time I showed at about 0730h. There were about six of us down to chase the move, so we were all just happy to sit around and shoot the bull while they worked. Finally about an hour later, they got their air test and started pulling slowly out of the east switch.
Power for the day was three K&O standard cab geeps – WAMX 3933 on the east end, WAMX 3930 in the middle and WAMX 3827 on the rear. 3933 and 3930 are ex-D&H GP39-2s – DH 6711 and DH 7617 respectively. WAMX 3827 is an ex-Missouri Pacific GP38-2 (built as MP 573), and more than likely has seen these rails many times before. How rare to see three four-axle second generation EMDs on the front of a coal train in 2021 – even if it was just empties. There’s enough hills on the old MP to really make those three work a bit, and did it ever sound good.
For the run into Eads, everything was nice and slow. Like I described it to a friend – it’s the most fun you can have at 15mph. That provided for plenty of time to explore different shots and angles on a line that isn’t exactly known for its scenic wonders. But there’s plenty of shots there – you just need time to look around for them. The snail chase also afforded time to occasionally sneak off between shots and let some of the morning’s coffee out.
At Eads, they pulled to the east end and and tacked the final fourteen cars on the rear of the train. Apparently with a little more confidence that everything was going to be fine with the stored cars, they were making every bit of 25mph once they got rolling again. From there, aside from a 10mph slow order through the S-curves dropping into Chivington, it was a straight on for Kansas. I was hoping to chase them a bit further, but they tied it down for the day just a few miles into Kansas. On Monday they’d take it on into Scott City, and then east from there on Tuesday – or at least that was the plan I heard.
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